Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Water pact work remains
Efforts to drum up support continue, as do disagreements
Efforts continue to win support for the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a 256-page document released in January that seeks to find a solution to the Basin’s water disagreements.
Sustainable Northwest, a Portland-based environmental group which first came to the Klamath Basin at the request of local rancher Becky Hyde and the Klamath Tribes, organized flights over the region last weekend. During the event, participants were invited to air concerns about the proposed water settlement. Organizers hoped it would provide a forum for stakeholders to find common ground.
Sustainable Northwest representative James Honey said he was pleased with the participation, but doesn’t know if it helped.
“I think it’s early to tell how it will help our conversations about structuring a settlement here,” he said. “It helps make things less abstract and we can envision the potential better.”
Irrigators on and off the Klamath Reclamation Project are affected by the outcome.
Farmers and ranchers within the boundaries of the Klamath Reclamation Project have organized representation that has existed for years, and multiple irrigation district boards have voted to support agreement. Off-Project irrigators don’t have organized representation and have sharply differing opinions of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
Steve Kandra, an on-Project irrigator who farms near Tulelake and Merrill, is optimistic about the agreement. For him, the flyover provided an opportunity to see the lay of the land and get an understanding of his neighbors’ operations.
“To me, it’s always fascinating to look at the lake. You can see very plainly development and you can see where stuff was and stuff is,” Kandra said.
He shared a plane with people with differing perspectives, including a PacifiCorp employee, a Klamath Tribes member and a biologist.
Kandra believes the restoration agreement is critical.
“We’re trying to come up with a way we don’t have to relive 2001,” Kandra said. “We’re pretty darn serious about putting something together so we can avoid the problems.”
The federal government shut off irrigation water to Project farmers in 2001 to protect endangered fish.
Kandra said he’s realistic and knows that to reach an agreement it’s impossible not to concern oneself with another party’s problems.
“The tool we have to have is the tool of collaboration,” he said. “If you think you’re not going to collaborate with somebody in the neighborhood, you’re not taking the process seriously.”
Off-Project irrigator Tom Mallams, who participated in the flyover, does not support the agreement. He has been vocal about his feeling that off-Project irrigators like himself are not getting the same kinds of protections that on-Project irrigators are.
Willing to talk
Mallams said accusations that the people he represents are unwilling to talk are not true.
“I would like to keep the dialogue open as much as we can,” he said. “It’s not that we’re not willing to talk. We’re always willing to talk.”
But Mallams said the talks have proceeded without off-Project irrigator representation because the only organization, the Klamath Off-Project Water Users Association, is designated to represent the off-Project irrigators’ power interests in negotiations with PacifiCorp as it works to negotiate a re-licensing agreement for four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.
“Our group was not made to deal with those kind of issues at all,” Mallams said. And even so, the off-Project users’ representative, Edward Bartell, joined in the settlement talks.
“The off-Project people were out-voted time and time again,” Mallams said. According to Mallams, the KBRA once contained language acceptable to the irrigators he represents, but by the next meeting, it had been removed.
“They put in some very vague language, but it’s so vague that it doesn’t give us anything at all in protections,” he said. “At one time we had those protections in the agreement.”
Released in January
The water agreement was developed by fishing, farming, tribal, environmental and governmental stakeholders during more than two years of closed door discussions and meetings. It was released in January, and since then, the public has studied and debated what was created during those discussions.
Hyde, an off-Project irrigator, has differing views from Mallams.
Hyde said Bartell, the off-Project representative, had a seat at the negotiating table, which prevented those interests from getting another seat.
“He was unable to negotiate any results at all,” Hyde said. “So we’re included by default because of the Project water users. People are very confused because their own guy didn’t deliver anything.”
Hyde said she feels many off-Project irrigators have not faced the situation realistically.
“Since our water was not shut off in 2001, we have been kind of asleep at the wheel in terms of what our reality looks like. Right now, as litigation stands, everybody who is post-1905 has the potential of being shut off without a settlement.”
The litigation Hyde refers to is a water rights adjudication that is now more than 30 years old. The process is costing upward of $5,000 a day. Once complete, the courts will decide who gets water, and how much.
The Klamath Basin adjudication process applies to any individual or agency using surface water in the Klamath River watershed, which includes the river, Upper Klamath Lake and any streams that flow into the lake.
Irrigators on and off the Klamath Reclamation Project, the Klamath Tribes and government agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are among some of adjudication’s prominent claimants.
The seniority of water rights is already established: The Tribes have the most senior rights, the newest irrigators some of the least.
“Tom’s position is gambling, it’s Russian roulette,” Hyde said. “We have to win it all for it not to affect us.”
Water agreement: What’s next
Much of what happens next hinges on PacifiCorp negotiations for dams on the Klamath River. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issues licenses for hydroelectric dams that are good for 50 years, said Pacifi-Corp spokesman Art Sasse.
“Most of the time, most owners and operators of the dam will try to reach a settlement with all the key stakeholders. That process, usually a settlement, traditionally takes 10 to 12 years.”
Sasse said PacifiCorp recently received re-licensing for a dam on Lewis River in Washington, but the entire settlement process took about 10 years. PacifiCorp has been in settlement talks about the Klamath River dams for about four years.
Sasse said there is nothing special about the Klamath River dams and the settlement process associated with relicensing. Any time PacifiCorp has worked to renew licenses on hydroelectric dams, it has had to deal with groups of interested stakeholders.
“While it might be different individuals, it’s still, most of the time when you’re going through this process, it’s the same kinds of stakeholders,” he said.
Sasse said of the dams PacifiCorp has attempted to re-license, three have ended up with new licenses and three have ended up in dam removal.
Sasse said in the settlement process PacifiCorp has agreed to install fish ladders usable by all fish, at a cost of $350 million to $450 million.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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